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Volume 28 Issue 4 | February - March 2023

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Volume 28 no.4, covering Feb, March and into early April '23! David Olds remembers composer John Beckwith; Andrew Timar reflects on the life and times of artistic polymath Michael Snow; Mezzo Emily Fons, in town for Figaro, on trouser roles, the life of a mezzo-soprano on the road and more; Colin Story on the Soft-Seat beat; tracks from 22 new recordings added to our Listening Room. All this and more.

The Lakota Music Project

The Lakota Music Project South Dakota Symphony Orchestra; Delta David Gier Innova 1 081 ( ! This highly creative project is a stunning combination of material composed by six gifted Indigenous Americans of the Lakota Sioux nation featuring the eminent South Dakota Symphony under the musical direction of Delta David Gier. The Lakota Project is a brilliantly constructed collection of music specifically written and designed to dissolve the walls between the Lakota peoples and their horrific history of abuse and near genocide at the hands of European settlers. The music itself was created in an atmosphere of trust and open communication and is a pure, resplendent boon to the process of reconciliation. Black Hills Olowan by Brent Michael Davids features the Creekside Singers dynamic; mystical motifs depict the incredible power of natural forces and the ensemble’s magnificent voices serve to intensify the magic. The composition and arrangement here are nothing short of superb, and awash with emotional and musical gravitas – chaos and destruction, and then rebuilding. Also exceptional is the six-movement, Victory Songs (Wakétgli olówan) by Jerod Impichchachaaha’ Tate, which fluidly moves the listener through time and history – from the beginning of the world to the horrific murder of Sitting Bull. Stephen L. Bryant’s sonorous voice digs deep into the soul, at once elevating us up into etheric dimensions and plunging us back down into the grief and horror of one group of the human race determined to exterminate another. Of particular delight is Desert Wind by guitarist Jeffrey Paul. Paul drags us into the present time and place with his cheeky, relentless electric guitar, soothed by Robert Erhard and Sharon Mautner-Rodgers on cellos and the Creekside Singers. The closing track is (ironically) John Newton’s 1772 Christian hymn, Amazing Grace. Arranged by Theodore Wiprud, this song celebrates a transformation that speaks to the oneness of all… a radiant and much needed message in our present world. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke American Stories Anthony McGill; Pacifica Quartet Cedille CDR 90000 216 ( ! This is a great recording. What is not to like here? The Pacifica quartet are excellent, Anthony McGill turns the clarinet into a beautiful distinct voice, and the stories? Well, let’s talk. Leaving aside the question of whether music can function as narrative, let’s at least say that while American Stories doesn’t push the inclusion-and-equity button too hard, it includes equally compelling tales from a variety of voices. Richard Danielpour’s threnody Four Angels reflects on the aching sorrow caused by the Birmingham church bombing now almost 60 years in the past. The angels are the four young girls who lost their lives to the hatred of a racist. The piece derives real beauty from that reflection and opens our hearts to hope. Despicable acts seem to be part of the curse of humanity, and courage and hope two blessings we require in order to persist. Commissioned by McGill in early 2020, it was premiered online in 2021. The longest and most entertaining work is the final one, Valerie Coleman’s Shotgun Houses. Coleman grew up in West Louisville, Kentucky as did the subject of the piece. Muhammed Ali’s early life and rise to prominence as an African American hero is depicted in three movements: the first, with the same title as the entire work, describes the neighbourhood itself, the architecture of poverty celebrated for the strength of the inhabitants. Grand Avenue is one of those streets, notably Ali’s home address when he was still Cassius Clay and before his Olympic triumph in Rome 1960. In this last movement Coleman pencil strokes Ali at the speed bag, on a flight (his first ever) to Rome, and in the ring for three rounds on his way to the gold medal, in under seven minutes; the entire work lasts about 18. I hope the composer at least considers whether it might be expanded, perhaps even with an epilogue to honour Ali’s later years as an activist, and his struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Between these are two other great pieces: High Sierra Sonata by Ben Shirley and James Lee III’s Clarinet Quintet. More tone poem than narrative, Shirley’s piece is an honest response to the dynamic beauty of the American southwest, in American vernacular style, if that means anything. Lee has a heavier task, addressing the treatment of the Indigenous peoples who were cheated out of promised territory in the Dakotas. Made me think of a half-finished monument to Crazy Horse that sits near Mount Rushmore. Both pieces substantially add to a growing genre: the clarinet quintet. Max Christie Invocation Duo Kermani-Gentili Pro Classics 7025 ( ! Is music by women composers like the dark matter of the musical universe: influential, yet somehow undetectable by current means? Try again. Invocation sheds light on this element, featuring works for clarinet and piano. The duo of clarinetist Kymia Kermani and pianist Alba Gentili-Tedeschi have focused on European composers, all women, most presenting (I would argue) mid-20th-century style. An exception is the first composer featured, Marie Clémence de Grandval (1823- 1907), whose Deux Pièces include the title track for the disc. Apart from her importance as an established female composer in the 19th century, I don’t think hers was the strongest opening play; tuneful and sweet, a bit like Adolph Adam, but less observed; de Grandval was kind enough NOT to write Minuit Chretien. A selection of well-performed miniatures, there are 27 separate tracks through its 58 minutes. It’s as if the composers were afflicted by modesty. I feel most compelled by the music of Holocaust escapee Ursula Mamlock’s Rückblick, in Erinnerungan die Reichspogromnacht 9. November 1938, a brief but harrowing depiction of her family’s flight from Berlin in the wake of Kristallnacht. The tracks are linked by short interludes by Barbara Heller (b.1936). Her Luftspuren are lovely enigmatic epigrams that serve as a “promenade” between the other works. Composition dates are absent in the jacket material, but with help from their publicist I learned Polish composer Krystyna Moszumańska-Nazar, who studied composition at the same school as Krzysztof Penderecki, quite possibly a bit earlier, was nine years his senior. Isn’t it wonderful to imagine that her clever (and also earlier) Three Miniatures for Clarinet and Piano influenced the much more celebrated man whose work of the same title was published in 1959? Now there’s some dark matter! Max Christie 60 | February & March, 2023

Poul Ruders – Clarinet Quintet; Throne; Piano Quartet Rudersdal Chamber Players Our Recordings 8.220680 ( ! The Rudersdal Chamber Players lift the music of Poul Ruders off the page and into the ether with finesse and passion. Liner notes include Ruders’ own quirky accounting for the pieces, and players’ biographies, which one senses were written by themselves. The group has been together since 2017, with members mostly of the current generation, all excellent. No explanation is offered for the similarity of the names, so call it a coincidence. The group is named for a music festival whose home is Rudersdal. The music itself is intense and compelling. Three works fill out the roughly 60 minutes of track time: Throne for clarinet and piano (1988); and the more recent Clarinet Quintet (2014) and Piano Quartet (2016). Describing or categorizing Ruders’ music requires more space than allotted, so I decided to list some adjectives and some possible likenesses to other composers: swinging, soaring, wailing; sweet and then astringent; moody and meditative; then boisterous and exuberant. Sometimes in the style of a chorale, featuring monody or homophony, with minimal vibrato (the Adagio movement of the Clarinet Quintet). At others (especially in the Piano Quartet) he reverts to more boldly modern style in the sense that his usual tonalism gives way to expressionistic chromaticism. And especially in the playing of the terribly capable clarinetist Jonas Frøland, expect keening notes at the top of the spectrum to tug on your emotions. If he has forebears, they are Messiaen (although Ruders is doubtless a pantheist) and Ruders’ compatriot Carl Nielsen (minus the melancholy). His contemporary cadre might include Gavin Bryars and Anders Hillborg, and possibly Kaija Saariaho. In his own words, the most important defining feature of his music is its soul and I urge you to discover that for yourself. Max Christie Works for Violin and Percussion Orchestra Nicholas Kitchen; New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble; Frank Epstein Naxos 8.574212 ( KeywordSearchResults/?q=Agocs) ! American composer Lou Harrison (1912- 2003) enjoyed mixing non- Western musical exoticism with lots of percussion. In his Arabicflavoured, 21-minute Concerto for Violin and Percussion Orchestra, he augmented conventional noisemakers with novel “instruments” including flowerpots, metallic coils and washtubs. Sinuous violin melismas and pulsating percussion decorate its first two movements, composed in 1940; Harrison added the roisterous belly-dance finale in 1959. It’s energetically performed by Nicholas Kitchen, first violinist of the Borromeo String Quartet, New England Conservatory quartet-in-residence, and the NEC Percussion Ensemble conducted by Frank Epstein, its founding music director. Insistent rhythms and pentatonic melodies, including an ancient Mayan dance-song, evoke tropical steaminess in the five-movement Xochiquetzal (2014) by Robert Xavier Rodríguez (b. San Antonio, Texas 1946). Kitchen’s violin vividly represents Xochiquetzal, Aztec goddess of beauty, love and fertility, among hummingbirds, casting a love spell, alongside her raingod husband, weeping tears of flowers and bestowing music and dance upon her worshippers. The four-movement Concerto for Violin and Percussion Orchestra (2018) by NEC faculty member Kati Agócs (b. Windsor, Ontario 1975) begins with Incanta, gentle tinkles accompanying a long-lined, sentimental violin melody. In the animated Inquieto, staccato percussion punctuates rapid, repeated violin figurations. Maestoso presents another extended, soulful violin melody, slowly throbbing percussion, an intense violin cadenza leading to a dramatic tutti climax before returning to the opening lyricism. Brioso.Cantabile’s piquant melodies and propulsive rhythms create a whirlwind, Gypsy-like dance, its exultant final flourish ending both the concerto and this very entertaining CD. Michael Schulman Album for Astor Bjarke Mogensen; Danish Chamber Players Our Recordings 8.226916 ( ! Danish accordionist Bjarke Mogensen writes in his liner notes that this Astor Piazzolla instrumental release is for “the centenary of his birth.” Mogensen bases his accordion performances and instrumental arrangements here in his admiration, studies and understanding of Piazzolla’s compositions and bandoneon playing. Combined with Mogensen’s personal sound, this is over one hour of perfect Piazzolla. The attention-grabbing opening track is Mogensen’s accordion solo arrangement of Adiós Nonino, Piazzolla’s work composed in memory of his father. An accented fast beginning leads to the famous slow, sad, emotional melody with rubato, then back to faster lush full glissandos and colours, showing off Mogensen’s skillful musicality, fast technique and respectful interpretations. The closing track solo arrangement Despertar (cadenza) is calming. The other tracks feature ensembles. Mogensen arranges six works for himself and the Danish Chamber Players. Highlight is Fuga Y Misterio, from Piazzolla’s opera Maria de Buenos Aires. Contrapuntal writing with fast attention-grabbing accordion single lines, fugal instrumental lines, then full instrumentals with accented accordion and orchestra detached notes produce spirited dance sounds. Mathias Heise on harmonica joins Mogensen on their co-arrangement/duet of Café 1930 from Histoire du Tango. The harmonica blends surprisingly well with the accordion, especially in high-pitched lines above accordion bellow vibratos. Co-arranger Johan Bridger’s melodious virtuosic ringing vibraphone playing competes with and complements accordion tango runs in Vibraphonissimo. His vibes/percussion tight rendition with accordion moves from moody to tango nuevo in Tristango. Piazzolla’s music lives on in this clear recording. Tiina Kiik Denis Plante – Suite Tango Stéphane Tétreault; Denis Plante ATMA ACD2 2881 ( ! Bandoneonist/ composer Denis Plante was inspired by J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites which feature such dances as courante, gigue and sarabande to compose Suite February & March, 2023 | 61

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